Analysis: News Corp kickstarted a multi-pronged communications strategy today (15 July) to disinfect its “toxic” corporate reputation, and that of its brands, in a bid to convince advertisers and readers that it is still safe to be associated with its media properties.
The media giant lit the fuse of its clear-up operation by announcing the resignation of News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks.
Brooks, a News International veteran of 22 years, said in her resignation statement that the “reputation of the company we love so much, as well as the press freedoms we value so highly, are all at risk”.
The admission was an indication that with Brooks – the editor of the News of the World at the time of the alleged hacking of Milly Dowler’s voicemail – still at the helm, News International could never repair its battered public perception.
The news group will be hoping the appointment of former Sky Italia chief executive – and ex-journalist – Tom Mockridge, who up until now has been unassociated with its UK newspaper portfolio, will make a clean sweep of News International in order to tourniquet the gaping wound that bleeds before him.
EDELMAN APPOINTED TO STEER COMMS
Mockridge will be advised by PR agency Edelman, who were appointed earlier this week to manage News International’s newly formed “management and standards group”, to provide communications and public affairs support.
Edelman will also help to steer the select committee hearing that will take place at the House of Commons next week. Brooks and Murdoch senior and junior have all been summonsed to be quizzed by MPs about the alleged illegal journalism practices that took place at News International newspapers, which will be broadcast globally.
The committee hearing is likely to be stage managed and sentiment will probably be repeated from the statements published by Brooks and James Murdoch today, as well as Rupert Murdoch’s interview with the Wall Street Journal.
MURDOCH IN THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
Murdoch senior’s appearance in the Wall Street Journal this morning was particularly telling, says Mark Borkowski, founder of Borkowski PR, as News Corp battles to appeal to its US shareholders.
“They have got to cut off the UK now to protect the US, which is where the money is. That is why Edelman [a US-based PR agency] has been brought in and why the Murdoch interview appeared in the Wall Street Journal, not The Times,” adds Borkowski.
Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal quotes were defiant and markedly without apology.
He said News Corp had handled the crisis “extremely well in every way possible” making only “minor mistakes”.
JAMES MURDOCH: APOLOGY
By contrast, the News Corp line on the scandal this weekend is to be one of apology. James Murdoch announced today that News International is to publish a series of full-page ads, across every rival national newspaper, apologising for the News of the World’s phone hacking scandal. This is due to be followed up with further communications about the actions the company has taken to correct the wrongdoing that occurred.
News Corp has also written to its advertisers to explain its crisis strategy. Renault, a former News of the World advertiser, which last week announced it was to pull all of its advertising across the News International portfolio, has since tweaked its statement on the matter.
A spokesman for the company says: “There are discussions ongoing with News International, but currently no final decision has been taken.”
PROBLEMS MOUNTING IN THE US
As News Corp attempts to alleviate its problems in the UK, the company faces further scrutiny in the US. Accusations have been levelled that journalists at the company hacked into the mobile phones of 9/11 victims, with the FBI currently investigating the case.
James Murdoch is soon to relocate to New York to become News Corp’s international chief and is likely to lead the charm offensive on the other side of the Atlantic too – although having been the face his company’s wrongdoing in the UK, his personal brand may also have been tarnished by the scandal.
The sullying of the James Murdoch “brand” could open the door for his sister, Elisabeth. She is reported to have made a “furious” attack on Rebekah Brooks’ handling of the phone hacking scandal to her friends and could be perceived as a more friendly public facing spokesperson for the company. She is also the wife of Matthew Freud, head of Freud Communications.
Elisabeth Murdoch joined the News Corp board after it bought her TV production company Shine for £415m earlier this year, strengthening the Murdoch dynasty at the top of their media empire.
To prevent the empire from crumbling, News Corp’s crisis communications team is working furiously, dumping assets like the News of the World and its bid to take over BSkyB in a bid to protect infection to its big revenue earners, the majority of which are based in the US.
Borkowski says: “If they can keep the rapport between the legal team and the PR team strong then the effort will continue to work – unlike what happened to BP where the relationship was bad.”
News Corp has thrown curve ball after curve ball as it races to prevent the toxicity of its UK newspaper brands spreading to its other properties. Today’s bombshells are unlikely to be the last.